As I start writing this article, I count the days since the beginning of self-isolation. I realize this is the 76th day of quarantine. This is the 76th day since, in the rush of unknown, I decided to leave my study abroad in Paris and come back home. On March 11th. When, in a matter of two hours or so, I took an exam in a room that felt way too crowded for the existent situation, finished first, bought a plane ticket, threw my clothes in the suitcase (as if my folding OCD did not even matter anymore), took the RER train and hurried straight to the CDG airport. There, I could easily count the people I was surrounded by on the fingers of my hands. That’s how empty the place was.
Arriving home, the COVID-19 was already declared a pandemic. Next week, countries started imposing rules, regulations, and lockdowns. Majority of schools got canceled. And many other measures that I am sure we all know.
However, I am not here to talk about all that we have been seeing in the news. We’re pretty much aware of it, maybe even had enough. There’s no denying this is a collective trauma experience that triggers each person in different ways. There’s no denying we are facing a crisis and nobody knows what way it is going to unfold moving further. I am here to talk about how this crisis can lead to some tremendous shifts in perspective, and how it personally did for myself. From changing my set of values, embracing slow life, to redefining concepts such as success and the meaning of family, here is my a-bit-more-optimistic view of the good that is being released into the world after this apparent setback. Hope you will relate to some of the parts mentioned and be inspired by them.
Shift of Values
This pretty much sums up what I’ve realized so far. A whole new set of values is opening up for myself, with new ones on the top of the list such as Family, Health, Wellness, Gratitude, Simplicity and Security. How did this period shift your values? Take a moment to think about it.
What is success? Everyone wonders. I still remember one of my first business lectures, when our professor asked us this exact question. I heard all sorts of answers, mine being: combining your passion with your work. Since then, I’ve done many things that made me feel “successful” – I became Class President, I was an Honors student, I strived for a 4.0 GPA, and I was adding a lot of things on my plate, as if simply being a college student was not enough. I am successful, I was telling myself. The better my resume looked, the more successful I felt. But really, how distorted is this perception?
Coming back home in the midst of my college years, I sat down to reflect on the importance my degree, career, and grades actually have in my life. Didn’t take me long to realize success is not defined through them. After this quarantine, they almost seem meaningless. Don’t get me wrong, I am an ambitious person and I still follow set objectives for my life, but I am not letting them define myself. Success got a whole new significance. Now, success is the ability to enjoy a cup of tea while soaking in the morning sun, taking a walk in the woods, finishing a revelatory book, having dinner with family, or fooling around with friends. All those things I thought meant success before are so far away from the new meaning. What importance do they have now? Maybe for my ego. And that’s the next perspective shift I want to talk about.
Putting My Ego In Check
It seems as if all this time and space that has been given to us allowed me to be more aware of my ego’s actions. Lately, I have been asking myself more: what am I doing out of my ego? So, I started paying more attention to each one of my actions, and really ask myself why I am doing it. I was surprised to discover that, in fact, I was doing quite a lot of things out of ego. Starting with my career goals and rush to have that “perfect career” to my reasoning for working out. Firstly, since I started college, I’ve been so focused on achieving certain steps in my career, as if it was the number one thing that mattered in this life. Being forced to stay in quarantine, things changed. In fact, just today I was supposed to start a long desired internship in New York City. Hearing that it got canceled, my ego took the turn immediately, making me very sad and negative about it. However, I stopped. I asked myself why I was so sad. I understood what comes from my ego, and it was a big part of my resistance. Resistance. That’s the key word. Doing things out of ego releases a lot of resistance once they don’t turn out the way we want them to.
Another example is my reasoning for working out. Every day, I found myself looking in the mirror, searching for “the abs”. Still have to train, just a bit more, I would say. Once I was saying this to my dad and he immediately noticed: That’s just something coming out of your ego. I stopped to reflect. Yes, in fact, it was. Why was I so obsessed over a result when the process is what needs enjoyment? Doing it just because. Because it feels good, it is healthy, it brings me energy. That is the real why. The why that I now follow every time I am working out, because the process is what matters. Results will follow.
This is a big perspective shift that happened during these times. The best part is that, once you start asking yourself what things you are doing out of your ego, you start being more and more mindful of them while they are happening. Soon you will laugh at yourself for being such a fool.
The Meaning of Family
I’ve never considered myself a family-oriented girl. I love my family immensely, but since a little kid, I have been pretty individualistic. I was the sibling who preferred to stay home by myself instead of going to a family event, go in four or five different camps per summer instead of spending my days home, travel solo instead of doing family vacations, and finally, moving to the United States for college because it seemed as the bravest decision for… such an individualistic girl like me, I used to think. These choices brought me a lot of learnings and opened my eyes to the world and its diversity, but the constant separation from my family, especially in the last three years of being in college, also brought me confusion. The funny thing is, I haven’t even realized it until being forced to stay home. Even then, the first weeks of self-isolation were a constant push and pull of resistance from my side towards the aspect that now I find the most important in our lives: family. What started as a feeling of annoyance for different attitudes of my mum or jokes of my brother turned into an exercise of understanding myself better through our familial bond. Not only myself, but knowing them better too.
Soon, I reconsidered the meaning of family. I’ve realized it is indeed the core of society, what brings light over our confusion, and supports ourselves and our values. I understand the importance of heritage – the traditions, characteristics, and connections accumulated over the years that make us who we are. Even more, the importance of simply being there with one another. Through supporting my family and honoring my roles as a daughter, sister, and niece, much light shines on the confusion that sometimes can appear. The legacy of each family member is a story and lesson to be learned and passed on further. The stories of our mothers, fathers, or grandparents. These are all pieces of a big puzzle – that is, ourselves. When you see and understand yourself from this light, family takes a whole new meaning. Personally, Sundays became moments to cherish. By dedicating them fully to family during this quarantine – cooking with dad, having conversations with mum, laughing with my brother -, I realize more and more that these are the moments that truly matter in life.
Claiming My Attention Back
This time more than ever, our attention has been requested by digital devices. Of course it is important to keep track of the essential news and what your friends are doing, but these new technologies are psychologically engineered so that they can keep you glued to the screen as much as possible. Therefore, I thought this was the perfect moment to read Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism and introduce the digital minimalism philosophy into my life. To sum it up, digital minimalism refers to technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support the things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.
I devoured the book and started applying the practices mentioned into my life, starting with a 30-day digital declutter. During this time, I’ve been imposing some rules for my digital usage to help me focus my attention on the things that truly matter. For instance, I’ve been taking long walks leaving my phone at home, deleted like 20 apps from my phone (including most social media apps), put my phone away in the mornings and evenings, and discovered high-quality leisure (such as cooking, reading, gardening or fixing stuff!) I am trying to follow these practices as much as I can and I see a big shift in what I give my attention to.
Embracing The Slow Life
Probably one of the most felt changes worldwide is the shift from the hustle and bustle lifestyle to the sudden stay-at-home vibe. If you were always on the go, doing something, this can feel like a big challenge for you. What if, instead, you cherish this time for simply being? Personally, this is the realization I had. I started embracing the slow life and a hakuna matata philosophy, which literally means no worries, a problem-free philosophy. I realized all we need to do is sink into presence and focus on the moment that is in front of us. Not stressing about the past or future, just being in the present. I like to say that you need to do what you can do with the cards given at each moment.
It was hella hard, of course. Especially being an extrovert that needs human interaction and new social events to go to. But acknowledging it is the first step towards change and adaptation to the new normal we are currently experiencing. Plus, who says this new normal is not better than before? After all these realizations I had, it seems like we can all evolve from these changes. Just like it is mentioned in The Great Realisation (a 4-minute video that I highly recommend watching): And so when we found the cure, and were allowed to go outside, we all preferred the world we found to the one we’d left behind.
Where You Running?
Finally, all I can do is stop and ask myself: Where the heck was I running so frantically? An individual doesn’t need much to be happy.
In conclusion, thank you COVID-19 for changing my life perspective for the better. These past two months taught me to embrace the present moment, slow life, redefine what success means to me, watch out for my ego’s actions, give family its true meaning, and rediscover the activities that are worth my attention and time.
I feel this shift of values and perspectives as a lasting one, and I am truly curious of the changes you’ve experienced during these times. What kind of hobbies have you picked up? What are some new routines you’re trying? How are you coping with the new normal? Really interested in hearing other thoughts as well!